Game Wrap and Reaction: Utah 26 Indiana 24

 Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

Opponent: Utah Utes
Location: Wednesday December 28th, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Why They Played:  The Hoosiers and the Utes played in the Foster Farms Bowl. This was the fourth all-time meeting between the teams.

 What The Game Meant:

Indiana was seeking their first bowl win since 1991 and their first winning season since 2007. It was a chance for the Hoosiers to start the Tom Allen Era off with a bang. 

Top Offensive Performers

Ricky Brookins, RB, Indiana- Yes, Devine Redding finished with more yards and scored, but Brookins was the better back tonight as he exploded through holes and didn’t make the mistakes Redding did. The reserve running back netted 64 total yards (53 rushing 11 receiving) on 13 touches. 

Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana- Westbrook capped a great sophomore campaign coming up five yards short of a 1,000-yard season. He made five catches for 80 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown.

Joe Williams, RB, Utah- Williams was electric in winning the Foster Farms Bowl Offensive MVP. He had 278 all-purpose yards (222 on the ground 56 receiving) and scored on a 16-yard run. He wore down the IU defense in the second half.

Top Defensive Performers

Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana- Scales capped off an unbelievable season winning Defensive MVP honors for the bowl game. He finished with 10 tackles, three TFL’s, and two sacks. With the absence of Marcus Oliver, it was imperative that Scales pick up some of that slack.

Jonathan Crawford, Safety, Indiana- Crawford forced and recovered a fumble while adding six stops.

Kavika Luafatasaga, LB, Utah- While Hunter Dimick was held in-check by IU, Luafatasaga broke through with 12 tackles (10 solo) and two tackles for loss.

Pita Taumoepenu, DE, Utah- The other defensive end forced a fumble, sacked the quarterback twice, and made six tackles. IU couldn’t contain everyone on the Utah defensive line and Taumoepenu caused issues all night for IU.

Special Team Performance

We all knew that special teams were going to be the difference in this one and for the second year in a row a bowl game came down to Griffin Oakes kicking a field goal. Utah is one of the best special teams units in the country, while consistency issues had plagued IU all year in this phase of the game. The Hoosiers struck first when Greg Gooch obliterated Kyle Fulks causing a fumble and setting up the Hoosiers at the Utah 11-yard line. However, after that play Utah dominated the punt, field goal, and field position game.

Before we get to Oakes, let’s pick apart the punt game. Once again Joseph Gedeon was out played by the opponent, as he netted only 36.7 yards per punt and nearly got burned on returns due to his punts being low liners that put the ball into Boobie Hobbs’ hands. Utah’s punter, Ray Guy Award winner, Mitch Wishnewski flipped the field a number of times on IU and even got off a 29-yard punt to avoid a disaster as he fumbled the ball trying to kick it. The Aussie averaged a 40.5-yard net average and had two punts over 50 yards.

Alright, on to Griffin Oakes. He will be vilified for his miss from 40 yards tonight that would have put IU up four points, meaning Utah would have needed a touchdown instead of a field goal to win. Oakes started the night strong, booming touchbacks and hit his chip shot field goal in the first half and looked like the Oakes that we saw for most of last season. However, when it mattered the most Oakes missed a 40-yarder from the middle of the field. It’s not fair to say that IU would have won if he had hit that, but Utah was 116th in red zone efficiency this season and scoring touchdowns inside the 20 was their weakness. Oakes finished the season missing 10 field goals, while Utah’s kicker, Andy Phillips, set bowl records for the most field goals (4) and the longest field goal (48). 

Key Stat(s):

I am going with time of possession here. IU’s defense looked gassed when they took the field with 5:34 left and up a point. Utah ended up wearing the banged up Hoosier D’ down late in the game with running back Joe Williams.

Turning Point

Most will point to the Oakes miss, to me the game changed when Devine Redding coughed up the football at the Utah three-yard line. It was second down so IU probably punches it in for six, but it took at least three off the board. Utah scored on the possession driving 95 yards for a touchdown. IU went from being tied or up four to down 10. 

I Knew it Was Over When…

Richard Lagow’s Hail Mary failed to launch after being hit while throwing the ball.

Players of the Game

Tegray Scales, Indiana- Scales won defensive MVP in a game that had some defensive stars. He finishes the season with 126 tackles.

Joe Williams, Utah- IU fans wish he stayed retired as Williams ran wild over the Hoosiers winning the offensive MVP. 

What I Took Away From the Game

Tom Allen has his guys ready to go from the start in this one as IU forced a fumble on the opening kick and scored four plays later. I thought Allen and the coaches had a terrific game plan and, for the most part, called a great game. However, the mistakes that haunted IU all season, manifested again. Special team blunders, turnovers, a wild Richard Lagow, and dropped passes made a lethal combination for the Hoosiers. Lagow was not good tonight, completing just 14-of-39 passes (35.8%), but he did not get much help from his receivers or backs as many passes were dropped. Going into 2017, Lagow is no longer a shoe-in to start. He has the tools and hopefully he can get whatever mechanical issues that plagued him this season worked out in the spring, but it may be time the Hoosiers reopened the quarterback competition.
IU did receive a spark from Zander Diamont as he came in and threw a pretty 36-yard TD to Nick Westbrook. When asked why Zander didn’t play more, head coach Tom Allen said that Utah was playing zero-coverage and that they had Diamont accounted for in the run game. 

The Hoosier ground game wasn’t stellar either, as Devine Redding (17 carries 72 yards) struggled to hit holes early and fumbled the ball inside the Utah five-yard line. Reserve back Ricky Brookins was the Hoosiers most effective back putting up 53 yard on 12 carries. The difference was that Brookins hit the holes with an explosiveness that Redding just doesn’t have.

IU’s defense played short-handed as starters Marcus Oliver and A’shonn Riggins sat with injuries, however the defense did more than enough to come out with the win. They forced three takeaways and kept IU in the game holding Utah to two field goals in what statistically was a lopsided third quarter.

As Dan Feeney said after the game about losing, “it sucks”. It does suck, and it sucks to lose like that. This team played as hard as anyone and just couldn’t get the little things to break for them, but now it’s time to put this is the memory bank and get ready for 2017. IU has a lot to fix. They have holes to plug with recruiting, staff changes could be on the horizon, and aspects of the team have to be improved. Indiana is on the right track and it seems as if Tom Allen wasn’t in over his head as the guy in charge. 2017 will start with the ultimate test, as Ohio State rolls into Memorial Stadium for the opener. IU will need to get the ship right during spring ball, but the train is on the right track.